Using the right tone of voice to enhance customer service

bearded smiling mouth male call center agent

Using the right tone during conversations can greatly enhance the customer experience.

Have you ever had a conversation that turned into a full-blown argument because you sounded angry, even though you weren’t?

We’ve all been through these situations, and they’re downright frustrating, especially because they could’ve been easily avoided had both parties used a friendlier tone.

The same thing goes for customer service. So many disastrous interactions could’ve been prevented if you’re using the right tone of voice.

Conversations naturally become heated when you give off an aggressive or boastful vibe, and as a customer service manager, you should be aware of this. Since most of your interactions with customers take place over a medium—including the phone, email, and social media—you need to enhance the tone you’re using.

The 7-38-55 rule

delighted surprised call center representative

Some time during the 1970s, Professor Albert Mehrabian of the University of California came up with the 7-38-55 formula for effective communication.

The idea behind this rule is simple: The words we choose contribute only a small fraction to the total quality of conversations.

Prof. Mehrabian broke down communication into three elements and quantified their values:

•     7% spoken words
•     38% tone of voice
•     55% body language

So what can call centers and their agents learn from this rule?

Prof. Mehrabian himself cautioned against an overly simplistic interpretation of his formula, as conversations are largely complex and dynamic. However, the 7-38-55 principle tells us two important insights:

• First, nonverbal cues matter more than verbal ones in most communication instances.
• Second, customer service reps must complement their words with the right tone and body language whenever possible.

First things first: What is tone?

In their style guide, support provider MailChimp makes a clear distinction between tone and voice.

middle aged male call center agent thinking making decision

What’s the difference between voice and tone? Think of it this way: You have the same voice all the time, but your tone changes. You might use one tone when you’re out to dinner with your closest friends, and a different tone when you’re in a meeting with your boss.

Thus, the tone of voice you’re using has a lot to do with attitude. It reflects your emotional state, which is expressed by the words you’re using. Depending on the situation, your tone can be:

• humorous and entertaining
• empathic and understanding
• friendly and conversational
• formal but not distant
• smart and casual
• informal but not tasteless

One the other hand, voice refers to the overall personality you’re conveying. It’s more of an indication of your character rather than your emotions. Here’s an example: Think about how a finance firm and a social media company would market themselves. Finance firms tend to be very businesslike, whereas social media companies are more upbeat and energetic.

What tone should be used for customer service?

Choosing the right tone for customer support must be done on a case-by-case basis, as tone must evolve to meet the needs of the specific customer you’re talking to.

Therefore, you need to educate and train your agents regarding communication techniques. They must be able to gauge the mood and personality of the person they’re talking to and come up with appropriate responses.

It’s not always possible to tell what tone of voice your customers would prefer, but you may consider the following advice to optimize conversations.


Casual or formal?

close up bearded call center agent

A lot of call centers would say they usually adopt a neutral tone. However, although it’s the safest choice, it’s often not the best one. The downside is that you may sound uncaring and distant, and no customer likes that.

Generally, it’s better to be casual and friendly whether on the phone, email, or social media.

According to a study by tech solutions provider Software Advice, 65% of customers prefer a casual tone for customer support. Interestingly, this finding is consistent across all ages and genders. Hence, no matter who the agent is talking to, it’s safe to assume that they prefer a more conversational beat.


Considering the context

surprised call center worker

While customers generally prefer a friendly tone, understand that it doesn’t apply to all types of interactions. Each conversation has differing contexts, so your customer service reps must be able to assess the situation and respond in the best way possible.

For example, during negative situations, customers interpret a casual tone as being insensitive or condescending.

According to the aforementioned Salesforce study, 78% of customers prefer a formal attitude when agents have to decline their requests. On the other hand, 35% of customers don’t want agents to be overly formal when granting their wishes.

Another thing you have to consider is the customer’s mood. Agents must be careful when talking to frustrated or angry clients. Aside from being extra sensitive and compassionate, they must also use other communication techniques to manage the situation.


Use of emoticons and web lingo

businessman holding yellow smiley

When communicating over the web, it’s typical for us to use emoticons ( 😛 ), emojis, and Internet-speak like “LOL,” “BRB,” and others.

However, many customers find such lingo inappropriate for customer support. Thirty-five percent of customers felt that emoticons were too informal, and 26% felt the same about colloquialisms.

There are instances wherein emoticons and Internet-speak may be used, but you still have to do so with caution. For instance, customers may expect you to be less formal over live chat than in email. Also, if the customer uses them, it’s usually safe to follow suit.


Observing etiquette

call center worker talking to customer on call

Nothing can improve your tone of voice more than observing the proper customer service etiquette. Listening attentively to the customer and genuinely wanting to help them can instantly improve the conversation. It also pays to be honest, empathetic, and efficient in solving customers’ issues. This improves the customer experience and allows brands and consumers to form a lasting relationship.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *